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Entries in urban life (16)


Western Romance

I grew up with fantasies of urbane and glamorous city life.  I knew I would live in a place full of bustling energy and worldly social milieu, far removed from the rural, provincial world where I came of age.

Those fantasies changed, clearly, but I never imagined that the mingled smell of diesel oil, sawdust, and sweat would be comforting and nostalgic until Will walked in from cutting firewood the other day and set the chainsaw down.  You smell like my dad, I blurted out, and I meant it in the best possible way.

I don't know what happened, or when, but suddenly I want to wear cowboy boots and go to the rodeo.  A herd of cattle huddling in the snow is the most romantic thing I've seen in recent memory.  The West is Out There, and though I've called it home for more than 15 years, it calls me deeper. 

But I wonder if someone who is not and can never be from here can understand it.  I wonder if, even if I tried, I could ever put my finger on the real thing, or if The West is just a set of stock images we all have as part of a collective nostalgia for something that never really existed. 

Something's different out here.  Something's intoxicating.  For some reason, these days, even the cows make me swoon.


Real-Life Logo

59.365 200mm f8 1/160 ISO 200It's funny how, even with the practice of carrying the camera with me everywhere, sometimes I still have to remind myself to actually take it out and shoot.  These telephone wires are at the intersection three blocks from my house and every morning there is a small flock of pigeons perched here, presumably clucking over all us rats on the race to work. 

I sit at the stop sign, awaiting my turn, and in my head frame up the picture of their silhouetted fat bodies facing east and then drive on.  Yesterday for the first time it occurred to me to get out of the car and actually take the picture.

I used to have a colleague with a bumper sticker that read COMMUTING IS PUNISHMENT.  I must operate on the assumption that I'm not actually being punished for some unknown sin, but I can say with certainty that commuting becomes dangerously hypnotic.


Rush Hour

57.365 55mm f4 1/30 ISO 400First of all, let me say that this 55-200mm lens that I'm confined to now that my wide is back at Nikon getting a tune-up is, er, challenging. My god, you have to have an incredible amount of space to be able to frame anything with that sucker and in these short days where everything takes place inside, well, that's tough. I know that 55-200 isn't even a lot of zoom in the grand scheme of things and I remember being so excited about this lens when I first bought it. But I'm coming to realize how distinctly I've developed a preference for my wide angle lens and for the flexibility it gives me when I shoot.

Moving on.

I have written here before (ad nauseum) about the feeling that I am constantly rushed these days. And yes, I realize that most reasonable people with jobs and families to nurture would not take on another daily commitment, especially one as elective as this photo project. But as I sat in traffic tonight, noticing the tiniest little sliver of a Shiva moon hang over the mountains, and watching the chameleon sky change colors and the digital clock on my dashboard tick up to the hard deadline of daycare pickup, I felt a little crushed by it all.

I actually shot this photo out the driver's side window of my car while it idled at a red light at the top of my exit. I would have liked to break out the tripod and frame it up correctly and make sure the focus was razor sharp but all there was time to do was fire the shutter and hope to capture the sky. It brought me face to face with a feeling that I half-ass everything. Hopefully well enough to get along, but perhaps not as well as I possibly could. And that is more demoralizing than the rushing.


Stalking the Moon

42.365 55mm f5.0 1/4 ISO 1600I had taken a perfectly nice picture of the beautiful bowl of pho I ordered for lunch yesterday (all while joking with my co-worker that I had to shoot it for my pho-tography project) that I had every intention of posting here.  And really, a cluster of bright green jalapeno slices topped with a squeeze of orange Sriracha sauce is extremely photogenic, as well having the virtue of cleaning out one's sinuses.

But then on my way home I noticed how the full moon was backlighting the Denver skyline and was kind of taken by how it looked.  I was in a bit of a mad dash to get home (as usual) and I thought night skyline, could I possibly make it special?  And anyway my tripod is at home.  But I remembered the encouragement I got from a reader here last week about how I shouldn't be afraid of cliches because they're cliches for a reason.  Usually because there's something beautiful about them.

So I found myself ducking into the college campus and trying to find a good vantage point.  I MacGuyvered a tripod with my iPhone and a cardboard box I've been meaning to bring in from the car for about a month.  And then I sat and waited.  And waited.  And waited like I was on some kind of safari for the moon to pop up over the building.  It was kind of nice to find a quiet little corner of downtown to have to myself for a few minutes and just to sit still and watch. 

As it turned out, I liked the picture better before the moon actually materialized.  But I'm glad I didn't know that earlier or I would certainly have run off to the next thing before enjoying the moment.


The Persistence of Persistence

38.365 10.5mm f5.6 1/800 ISO 200Oh gawd.  It's been such a week of feeling utterly blocked from the kind of graceful timing that brought me into so many beautiful scenes last week.  And then yesterday, driving home from work I encountered another beautiful sunset.  I didn't want to stop to shoot it, but I felt that to ignore it would be to thumb my nose at the photo gods.  Since I didn't want to give them the idea that I didn't appreciate the beauty, I got out of the car and shot it.  And it was pretty.  But the beautiful alchemy that separates a photo from a snapshot never materialized and I got back in my car and headed to pick up Ezra.  At least I felt some satisfaction in having tried.

In a way it's kind of wondrous that this feeling of stuck-ness only arrived after a month of enthusiastic shooting.  This week I am coming to appreciate the point of committing to a year of doing this every day: it requires you to compose something even when you don't feel inspired.  Even on the days when nothing interesting happens in front of you, you find a way to make an observation.  Who knows?  Maybe these are the days that I'll learn the most.

Yesterday morning, as I left the house I thought about how drably conventional everything around me seemed.  And I figured I had one sure-fire photographic defense against the conventional: my fisheye lens.  That lens gives everything a surreal look that might just jolt me from my malaise.  Then on the way to work the rubber factory called me back again.  What to do, except to try to clear out what's blocking the creative signal, the feeling of grace, and just persist?